The underwater photographer is an incongruous mixture of three personalities: technologist, artist and diver. The task of making temperamental terrestrial equipment perform complex calculated functions in a hostile environment falls to functions in a hostile environmental falls to the technologist. The goal of preserving and sharing an individual perspective of the underwater environment belongs to the artist. Unfortunately, the technologist and the artist must share the same mind with the scuba diver and function as a beleaguered unit. There is an animosity between the artist and the technicians that often causes the diver to throw them both out and leave the camera on the boat. The artist feels a need to share his perspective of the sea with others, the technologist is enthralled with gadgetry and the diver wants to have a good time exploring the reef.

These three personalities pursue the common goal of capturing impressions of the marine world. In this quest, they pass collectively through three phases of expertise. As a beginning photographer they grapple with preserving reality as best they can. As a skilled photographer they used practiced techniques to capture reality as they find it and ultimately as a creative photographer they use technology to forge a unique perspective of reality. With the acquisition of each new skill, the diver loses control and the technologist and the artist gradually take over.

Deficiencies of technological ability identify the beginning photographer. The technologists is responsible for control of exposure, parallax, lighting, equipment care and maintenance. Lack of these skills means most beginners enjoy their pictures much more while taking them than when viewing the end result (so do their friends). Disastrous mistakes are common and at no other time during the path to better photography does the technologist feel so inadequate.

A underwater photographer taking photographs of a graceful hawksbill sea turtle gliding through the clear blue water
A underwater photographer taking photographs of a graceful hawksbill sea turtle gliding through the clear blue water

During this period the technologist receives (and deserves) critical harassment. The artist is aghast at the fuzzy, unacceptable images captured film; the diver is bereaved when a flooded camera and broken strobe screw up his good time. The beginning photographer often mumbles incoherent excuses about O-rings and f stops. The artist and the diver gang up on the technologists and enroll him in photography courses while demanding he mend his ways. Through determination and proper training, the technologist within the beginning photographer may overcome bad habits and mistakes: Suddenly the equipment works and the pictures become sharp and acceptable. The photographer begins to enjoy both taking and looking at his pictures. The ability to produce properly exposed and focused photographs marks the transition to skilled photographer.

The traditional initiation ritual of a skilled photographer involves spending an amazing amount of money on new equipment. The diver and the artist make this concession to the technologist as a reward for learning the basics of lighting and focus. The skilled photographer is able to photograph the reality around him in recognizable form and begins collecting fish pictures and various scenes he finds when he falls into the water. This is a time of refinement for the technologist as he strives to attain the speed and agility to focus on fast swimming fish. Practice and concentration develop the ability for instant exposure calculations. The technologist floods less equipment but spends most of the diver’s expendable income on accessories, film and processing. The artist notices improvement in image quality and begins to develop a working partnership with the technologist. As the artist becomes more demanding, shots that used to be acceptable begin to land in the trash. The artist begins to dictate where the diver goes during the dive and demands better diving skill, perfect buoyancy control, less silt and total concentration on what the artist wants. Friends are amazed at the transition and begin to call the photographer creative.

The transition to creative photographer is complete when the artist achieves total control. The diver is the vehicle and pack-mule of the artist, carrying equipment anywhere the artist dictates. His direction, depth and efforts are all controlled to produce the best photographic opportunities during the dive. The technologist “techs” for the artist, operating the equipment to the specification of the artist. The artist is no longer bound to the reality he sees, but pursues the reality he perceives. Through absolute control over the technologist, skills of lighting, wide angle distortion, macro and filters, the artist is free to create, to form images as he wills them to be. Mastery of technique allows the artist to express imagination. This ability to see unusual opportunities in ordinary subject matter creates new perspective and gives the photographer the initiative to capture unique images. Through application of camera perspective, skill and trickery, creative photographers produce their own vision of reality.

During the ascension of the creative photographer the artist and the technologists maintain strict discipline over the diver. The artist compels the diver to travel the world in search of new opportunities to create the unique. The technologists demands the resources of the diver to upgrade and replace obsolete equipment and is constantly taxed by the artist to become faster and more proficient. Fortunately, the diver benefits from this relationship and stoically accepts the burden of diving exotic places. He can justify spending all his time and resources at the command of the domineering artist as he collaborates to express a creative interpretation of the undersea world as he (the) perceive(s) it.


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